PATONG: More than 20 forest protection officers yesterday afternoon raided an illegal logging operation high in the hills south of Patong, but the handful of workers caught by surprise at the site all managed to flee the scene.
Panumet Dam-orn, who heads the Phuket-based Forest Protection Unit 2, ordered the raid after aerial surveillance of the area on Wednesday.
The site is located upslope from Meun-ngen Rd, which runs from the south end of Patong Bay to Tritrang Beach.
K. Panumet conducted the raid with about 20 other officers from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment’s Forest Resources Inspection Office 17, located in Krabi.
The group reached the site at about 1 pm after traveling about two kilometers along a winding dirt road, some sections of which were covered with reinforced concrete because of the steep gradient, K. Panumet said.
When they reached the site, the officers found workers – allegedly Burmese – cutting down hardwood trees and processing them into planks one-inch thick, six-inches wide and 13-feet long.
After the workers quickly fled, officers recovered about 140 planks as evidence. K. Panumet estimated the total value of the lumber seized at about 200,000 baht.
Local residents told officials the operation had been going on for many months, allegedly after a Bangkok-based investor hired a team to fell the trees and process them into lumber.
The investigation will try to identify the investor and bring charges against him, K. Panumet said.
Following his aerial survey on Wednesday, he estimated the total area of encroachment on hillside forest land throughout Kathu district at about 100 rai.
Problems in the hills of Patong made headlines in October last year when heavy rains triggered a landslide that undermined the foundations of a holiday home and apartment block off Nanai Rd Soi 9, causing an emergency evacuation.
It was later discovered that work on a real estate project downslope was the likely cause.
In November 2005, a landslide crashed through the wall of a dwelling on Nanai Rd, killing a Thai woman and her child.
A provincial ban on building permanent structures more than 80 meters above sea level was brought into effect in 1994 in order to prevent erosion. However, the ban has been meaningless, with many projects – completed or currently underway – widely visible in the hills surrounding Patong.
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